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AFT Resolutions

ARAB SPRING

WHEREAS, the Middle East revolutions during the first half of 2011, collectively known as the Arab Spring, demonstrated once again that it is possible to change history, if there is sufficient courage on the part of people to challenge the status quo and call for their full social, democratic, political and economic rights; and

WHEREAS, trade unions, particularly teachers' unions, were agents for change in these revolutions. In Tunisia, they led from the front of the line; in Egypt, independent teachers' unions and the tax collectors' union played an important role in sustaining the momentum for reform; in Bahrain and Yemen, teachers' unions and healthcare workers pushed for democracy, but at the cost of harsh treatment from the authorities. Across the region, civil resistance has been met with brutal state reprisals causing thousands of casualties; and

WHEREAS, women and youth have been at the forefront of this courageous stand for freedom; for too long, the rights of the majority of women and girls in most Arab countries have been systematically oppressed; gender inequality—embedded in culture and religion—results in political, social, educational and economic inequality as well as sexual harassment, assaults and stigmatization for threatening to challenge the cultural norms. For example, in Yemen, 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and only one woman serves in the 301-person parliament; and

WHEREAS, the sustained mobilization of activists in the Arab Spring was fueled by social media technologies, which empowered thousands and informed the world, despite government efforts to censor or suppress the use of these modes of communication; and

WHEREAS, the Arab Spring is not any single event in any one country, but a mosaic of poignant outpourings across the region that garnered strength from each other, all expressing the will of the people for democracy; the distinctions in each country reflect that country's unique circumstances and challenges:

  • In Egypt, there has been the welcome emergence of new, independent workers' movements, but the military retains power and has violently oppressed trade unionists and protesters advocating for democracy and the rights of workers and minorities; more than 15 industrial actions have been brutally interfered with and halted by the military; and
     
  • In Tunisia, where the suicide of a young street vendor in a small town began the regionwide revolution, the provisional government (led by the Islamist Ennahda party) debates the relationship between politics and Islam, such as the question over whether the new constitution will enshrine Sharia as the ultimate source of the law. These debates have spilled out into the street, pitting secularists against those who wish to see the new Tunisia embrace an exclusive Arab-Islamic identity; and
     
  • In Bahrain, in a crackdown on protesters, the government has arrested more than 3,000; teacher and healthcare union leaders have been singled out for the harshest treatment; prisoners endure hunger strikes to call world attention to their plights; and
     
  • In Syria, the revolt, which started with the detention of teenage anti-regime graffiti artists, has continued for more than a year and thousands have died; cities remain under siege by the armed forces; and international diplomatic interventions have stalled. Syrians continue to face the brutality of the Assad regime when expressing their opposition to not only the government but also the regime's systematic division of the population; and

Therefore:

  • The American Federation of Teachers holds in the highest regard the courageous men and women who have stood and spoken against decades of tyranny, corruption, abuse of power, gross economic inequality and theft of liberty; and we stand in solidarity to honor the particular role played by our trade union sisters and brothers in this fight for freedom and democracy; and
     
  • The future of the revolution that was launched by the Arab Spring remains difficult to predict and will unfold in different ways in each country; the transformation of closed repressive societies is not an easy process and will require a rejection of autocratic or fundamentalist doctrines and a respect for fundamental human rights:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will:

  • Call upon the U.S. government to use its leadership to pressure governments in the region to cease harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention of political opponents, union activists and human rights defenders, and to drop charges against teachers, healthcare workers and students related to the exercise of freedom of speech and assembly, including all charges against imprisoned Bahrain Teachers' Association president Mahdi Abu Dheeb and vice president Jalila Al-Salman; and
  • Commit to work closely with labor unions—along with its partners Education International, Public Services International, the Solidarity Center and the International Trade Union Confederation—to advance the interests of democratic trade unionists across the region; and
  • Call on the global labor movement to use available complaint mechanisms to enforce International Labor Organization conventions in the region that create fair labor markets and uphold ILO standards.

(2012)